Within a gigantic orbital facility, the “Nest” constitutes the real center of what we know as the “Agency”, its heart, if you will. The place is inaccessible without security clearances which are sparsely issued. It is here that one can find the “incubators” and their notorious caissons, the transfer control rooms, the T.T.D. offices, the briefing and debriefing rooms, and mainly the showers. As a matter of fact, everybody knows – especially the rookies – that one of Bob’s leitmotivs is: “Go shower before the debrief.”
As soon as they are dry, the agents hop in their T.I.M.E tracksuits and head for the meeting room, trotting all the way. Nothing new here. But today, in the hallway, a small crowd gets in the way of the entrance. A dozen men in dark uniforms, clearly soldiers, manoeuver a cart on which a thick-glass heavy caisson rests. Intrigued, you notice traces of greenish jelly on the glass panes. In the container, a luminescent gemstone floats in zero gravity. No doubt, this is the very stone that was brought back from 15th century Andalusia.
One of the soldiers turns towards your group of onlookers and dismisses you with a hand gesture:
“Don’t stay here! Clear the area!” His dark cap bears the Consortium logo and the S.S.U. acronym. Your small group steps back, quite frustrated, making room for the soldiers to manoeuver and bring out the load. Except that screams soon disrupt the scene. Grunts and protests come from the debriefing room and then, one of the guys in uniform ends up in the hallway, on his butt!
You all elbow your way through, trying to see what’s happening behind the men in black. No doubt. You’d recognize Bob’s voice and his crude language anywhere. It is obvious that his conversation with the S.S.U. guys turned into an argument and ended with him knocking one of them out, rather violently.
“You don’t take anything without referring to me first, and you’d better talk to me nicely!!!” screams your instructor. Two soldiers aren’t exactly an extravagance to hold him back while their colleague gets up on his feet. An officer steps in. He’s a tall skinny guy and somewhat round-
shouldered. He wears a dark kepi over cropped gray hair. He puts everybody off when sweeping the scene with his scrutinizing eyes.
“I’m asking you to remain calm. We are duly appointed for this mission and I am the one in command here!” He shows the sewn badge on his shoulder as to strengthen his statement.
“And how come?” mumbles Bob, still held back by the two big guys.
“Security has been compromised,” answers the officer.
“Oh! And nobody cares consulting me?” inquires Director Quartes who arrives fast, followed by a few of her collaborators. The lady isn’t exactly expressive but still, one can see that she’s rather pissed off.
“Madam Director, I have been duly appointed to remove the gemstone and safeguard it until the alert is lifted,” states the officer.
“What alert?” she asks, widening her large eyes and peering under the kepi’s peak of the S.S.U. Major. “Can anyone tell me what’s going on here?”
“There have been several irregularities, Madam…” The man stops talking when he notices the audience, mainly composed of rookies. “Can we continue this conversation elsewhere?”
Director Quartes nods quickly, but obviously Bob doesn’ t see it that way.
“Sorry, Madam Director, but there’s no way you can cut me out of the talk about the mission I’m in charge of! And my agents have the right to be here as provided under Article 75…”
After long minutes of intimidation and regulation reminders which are forcefully dismissed by an extremely irritated Bob, the S.S.U. officer finally gives in and resumes:
“Well… There have been irregularities: transfers concurrent with the mission, receptacles not reported to the T.T.D., and therefore unauthorized…” Quartes turns towards Bob whose arms are still firmly clenched. “Would you care to elaborate, Calavicci?”
“Yeap,” grumbles the instructor. “Ok, it’s true there have
been additional unanticipated transfers. We can’t anticipate everything. The ratios that Laura provided were deteriorating by the minute and we lost connection with our agents. We had to send them over convectors, urgently…”
“Or, you have been manipulated by the Syaans,” interrupts the officer. “Transfers without any kind of supervision are really convenient, aren’t they?”
“Oh, please! It’s not like we have time to waste on filling the BG-7276-Y paperwork and risk, at any time, to have to take vegetables out of the receptacles!”
“These are not the only irregularities!” cuts off the S.S.U. officer. “The recordings have also been discontinued during the transfer. We believe some individuals having different goals from ours may have interfered with the mission.”
“Major Sand, Master Instructor Bob will probably be able to demonstrate his integrity,” soothes Professor Ronn who remained discreet up to this point. The elegant old man forms a hypnotic wave movement with his long hands and goes on: “I am certain that there is a rational explanation. In the meantime, it would have been simpler and politer not to act disregarding the Directoire. You should know that we have the same objectives and that security is as much a concern to us as it is to you.”
“Certainly Professor,” acknowledges the Major. “However, the protocol set up by the Consortium forces me to put in quarantine all those involved in this mission until a clarification investigation has been made. Everyone will be isolated and interrogated individually.”
“You don’t say! And what about my rights, sit on them?” asks Bob, outraged.
“I acknowledge that laws from Earth grant you rights, Officer Calavicci. But here, in the Sculptor Galaxy, the Consortium laws prevail,” says ironically Sand while adjusting his kepi and ordering the S.S.U. soldiers to surround you with a gesture…